Japanese gardens are world-famous for their carefully arranged botanical compositions, attention to the most minute detail and sheer jaw-dropping beauty. Here are a handful of perennial favorites with visitors from around the world.
Traditional Landscape Gardens
Boasting one of the grandest and celebrated garden designs in the country, Kenrokuen Garden (Kanazawa) is the pinnacle of a 150-year project – and it shows. There are ponds, water features, quaint curved bridges, waterfalls, and streams galore in its spacious expanses, meant to enhance Kanazawa Castle back in the day. It’s all run by a sophisticated water system, constructed in…1632. The garden did not open to the public until 1871 and constitutes the spot to have a traditional Japanese green tea at the charming old-style teahouse.
Kenrokuen means “Garden of the Six Sublimities” – spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, seclusion, plentiful water and panoramic views – all the elements needed to achieve the perfect garden, according to the ancient theory of Chinese landscape design, adopted by the Japanese. Other exceptionally beautiful gardens in this style include Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, Mito’s Kairakuen with its 3000 plum trees, and Korakuen in Okayama.
Visitors with a more contemplative bend will enjoy sampling the Zen delights of Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, one of Japan’s most famous rock gardens, dating back to the end of the 15th century. Its deceptive simplicity features moss-covered boulders sitting amidst the obligatory raked pebbles, all enclosed by an earthen wall. Apparently, the rocks cannot all be seen at the same time from any spot in the garden. The stillness is best appreciated early in the morning before the crowds descend. After your meditation, try the Kyoto specialty of Yudofu (boiled tofu) in the restaurant located on the temple grounds. Further examples of a variety of Zen gardens can also be explored in Daitokuji, a large walled temple complex in northern Kyoto, also famous as a centre of tea ceremony.
You have probably heard all about the stunning cherry blossoms in Tokyo. But in springtime, from late April to mid-May, Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Kitakyushu offers sights straight from a romantic fairytale: glide along the famous wisteria tunnels, admiring the hanging blossoms in a variety of shades of purples, whites and violets. A perfect place to bring one of those long French novels, or canvas and paints to create your Impressionist masterpiece. This private garden is located about 4 hours drive from Tokyo; entrance fees apply. Another famous wisteria destination is Ashikaga Flower Park in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture which is 70 mins train ride from Tokyo for those with limited time.
Visitors keen to see the cherry blossoms or sakura, however, should aim to arrive towards the end of March. Serious enthusiasts are encouraged to make their pilgrimage to Yoshino, the traditional cherry blossom viewing area, but there is no shortage of gorgeous spots around the country to admire the spectacular blooms.
Serenity and aesthetic delights await; so head to Japan and immerse yourself in the world of Zen symmetry, masterful design and picture-perfect photo opportunities encapsulating Japanese ideals and culture in cherry-blossomed perfection.
Author: Patricia Bieszk is a withered traveler, sometime writer and long-time enthusiast of all things Japanese.